Sharing is Scaring: mimicry in Black-bellied Starlings

By | August 29th, 2015|Birds|

If you're a Black-bellied Starling and you want to outcompete your frenemies to hook up with a GF, the most chillaxing way is to do it vocally. Talk the talk, gansta, by copying all the birds you hear around you, obvs. I try my hand at teen slang, and analysis of the vocal repertories of Black-bellied Starlings - possibly Africa's most under-rated mimic. If you're too lazy to read the post, just listen to the audio clip where I isolated mimicked phrases from 11 other species in a 22s recording. Peace!

Welcome Owen Callum Peacock

By | July 20th, 2015|Birds|

Today is your birthday - welcome to the World, Son! This is a strange but wondrous place, and you will have so much fun exploring it, meeting all the thousands of species that inhabit it, and discovering their secrets. I suggest that you start by getting to know doves and pigeons, some of the most awesome birds out there. So much so, that your Mom and I decided to name you after them!

Shot in the dark: field ID of nightjars

By | July 15th, 2015|Birds|

Nightjars are astonishingly cryptic birds - and differentiating the various species can be a nightmare. Is is possible to confidently identify a nightjar to species-level without hearing it call or capturing and measuring it? You betcha! I promise that if you can summon the mental energy to wade through this technical article - the older brother of the piece that appeared in the Jul/Aug 2015 edition of African Birdlife magazine - you'll be a nightjar fundi!

The Cuckoo Finch: deceiving birds & birders alike

By | July 15th, 2015|Birds|

The parasitic Cuckoo Finch has a talent for deceiving its cisticola hosts - through mimicry of their egg colours and patterns. However, adult female Cuckoo Finches closely resemble female bishops and widowbirds. Could it be that this is also a form of mimicry? Could hiding in plain sight allow broody female cuckoo finches to infiltrate prinia nesting territories undetected? Some inspired research from a team in Zambia suggests this is indeed the case.

Winter is coming…

By | July 14th, 2015|Birds|

Birders tend to prefer the summer months, when everything is singing, breeding and displaying. However, during South Africa's precious short winter months our 'resident' bird species undergo a remarkable shift in distribution. This is evident even in your own garden! Here are some of the more interesting changes I've noticed over the last few chilly weeks...

Harry Potter and the HBW Checklist: Splits and Lumps

By | June 15th, 2015|Birds|

In this second Harry Potter-themed review of Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International's collaborative Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World (Volume 1, Non-passerines) I'll give you some more specifics on the book's layout and content. In addition, I reveal some of the more shocking findings of the book's taxonomic research team - and how these lumps and splits will affect us Muggles and our lifelists. Oh, and there's some Dumbledore quotes.

Harry Potter and the HBW Checklist: What is a species?

By | June 8th, 2015|Birds|

Do you believe in magic? After reviewing Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International's collaborative Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World (Volume 1, Non-passerines), I certainly do. How else do you manage to include an illustration, distribution map and a taxonomic review to subspecies-level for almost 4,500 species into one book? In the first of this two-part review, I summarise the taxonomic concepts behind this magical publication.

Faansie’s Fanciful Feathers Quiz

By | May 16th, 2015|Birds|

What is birdwatching but watching feathers? A good ornithologist should also be a good plumologist (feather studier). As birders we consider the whole, and not just the parts...but identifying feathers provides one with much deeper insight into ‘how birds are put together’. How many of these 12 feathers sets can you identify? Challenging but fun! Be careful not to reveal the answers accidentally!

Grey is the new black

By | May 16th, 2015|Birds|

In April, Aden Gower photographed a young Lanner Falcon mantling over its prey - but what was the prey species? Turns out it is something quite unusual - a melanistic Gabar Goshawk. Read on for the full story, and some insights into colour aberrations and the biology behind them.

DAVE’S LOCAL PATCH: A tale of three twitches

By | May 8th, 2015|Birds|

Dave Deighton must be one of the luckiest birders alive, and his name is synonymous with waders, rarities and twitching. Whether they know it or not, the majority of serious listers owe him their gratitude. This is the story of three of Dave's most remarkable discoveries, and how those birds changed birding in southern Africa.